Aussies and Kiwis had a secret when it came to cruising: Orion Expedition Cruises. The line owned only one expedition ship but that ship made amazing voyages around the globe to places like Bali and Borneo, the Great Barrier Reef, Papua New Guinea, Antarctica, Micronesia, and Melanesia. The luxury ship offered every amenity you could think of and the crew consisted of highly trained individuals, including naturalist and guides that made each journey come alive.
Orion built a loyal following but most travelers were from Down Under. Bu that's about to change. Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic purchased Orion Expedition Cruises and will rebrand the ship as National Geographic Orion in March 2014. This acquisition means that Lindblad fans will now gain access to dozens of unique itineraries in far-flung locations with special emphasis on the South Pacific and Antarctica.
The traditional Orion experience highlighted by renown guest lecturers and onboard naturalists will be reinforced by the Lindblad team and now a National Geographic photographer will be onboard nearly every voyage. New exploration equipment—like brand new kayaks and a state-of-the-art ROV (remote operated vehicle reaching depths of 1,000 feet)—will be installed aboard Orion. Additionally, Lindblad is upgrading all snorkeling equipment and is instituting a scuba program that can accommodate up to 24 divers at a time.
Three epic inaugural expeditions are on sale now and includeâ€¦
Route: Auckland, New Zealand to Cairns, Australia
This adventure appeals to so many different types: history buffs looking to trace the steps of Captain Cook and nature lovers who want to snorkel and dive to view some of the world's most pristine coral reefs. Highlights of the trip include learning about the cultures of Micronesia in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea; three days exploring Australia's Great Barrier Reef; and visits to remote islands like Norfolk Island, a UNESCO site.
NatGeo Photographer: Photo essayist Amy Toensing is the special guest on this voyage.
Route: Cairns, Australia to Palau, Micronesia
This is the journey to select if you're interested in marine habitats and tribal cultures. You'll snorkel and dive off Lizard Island National Park on the Great Barrier Reef and enjoy traditional dance performances on the island of Kitava in Papua New Guinea. World War II buffs will enjoy exploring the cave systems and shipwrecks of that era in Chuuk, Micronesia.
NatGeo Photographer: David Doubilet—known for his underwater photography—is the special guest on this voyage.
Route: Palau, Micronesia to Darwin, Australia
The islands of eastern Indonesia are gorgeous with white-sand beaches and pristine coral reef systems. These islands aren't like anywhere else you've visited. And this journey takes you from Palau to the Moluccas archipelago, once known as the Spice Islands. The pinnacle of the trip is time spent in Raja Ampat, one of the world's richest marine biospheres.
NatGeo Photographer: David Doubilet
This is just a look at Lindblad Expeditions' inaugural sailings of National Geographic Orion. The line has also programmed interesting itineraries in Antarctica, South Georgia, and the Falklands.
Andrea M. Rotondo is a freelance writer based in New York City. She covers cruise news and luxury travel trends for Fodors.com and writes for a variety of outlets, including her website Luxury Travel Mavens. Follow her on Twitter: @luxtravelmavens.
Photo credit: Courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions